The 1915 Marshfield, Oregon obituary read, “Fannie was killed yesterday at Bay Park by a Southern Pacific train.” The newspaper article recounted how Fannie had traveled with Nils Adamson, a lighthouse keeper at various Southeastern Alaskan lights. The two had come ashore and Fannie, age 11, had run to see a member of her family, but upon her immediate return, “failed to see the train and was run over, losing a leg and being injured about the head” which resulted in her tragic death.
Nils was devastated by the loss. Other keepers sent him letters offering condolences for Miss Fannie’s passing for they knew how much he had loved her and depended on her companionship during his long vigils at isolated Alaskan lighthouses. She was his only family for eight years at Alaska’s Five Finger Island Light and Eldred Rock Light before he moved down to Oregon to become keeper of the Coos Range Lights and marry Hilma Maria Sjöberg in 1911. Wherever he went, Miss Fannie Juneau came with him, just as a good lighthouse station dog would do.
Nils P. Adamson, born in 1869 in Lomma, Sweden, ran away to sea when he was 16 years old. When he arrived in America, he spent ten years setting sails and working as a merchant seaman in the redwood coast lumber trade until he joined the U.S. Life-Saving Service at Cape Disappointment, Washington in 1896. He also spent a short stint of three months working for the U.S. Coast Geodetic Survey in 1903 before he joined the U.S. Lighthouse Service and went north to Alaska to start his lighthouse-keeping assignments.
Sometime around 1904, Miss Fannie was given to Nils as a gift by Pete Carlson from Juneau, which is how she got her last name. Nils Adamson and Miss Fannie remained at Five Finger Island Light until 1906 when Nils was transferred for two months to Desdemona Sands Lighthouse in Oregon, and then sent back to Alaska to become head keeper of the newly constructed Eldred Rock Lighthouse in the Lynn Canal.
Life was fine there for the two of them, especially on February 26, 1910 when Nils recorded in his journal: “The Stork arrived at 2.17 A.M. and delivered 3 popies [sic] to Mrs. Fannie Juneau. 2 shes and one he. Nick, Vivi, and Topsi, respectfully. Mother & babies are doing well.”
But only a month later, tragedy would strike Nils and his crew at Eldred Rock Lighthouse that would have a lasting impact on him for the rest of his life. On March 26th, first assistant John Currie and second assistant John Silander left to visit Point Sherman Lighthouse for a short overnight visit. They never came back. Five days later, Nils found the station boat the pair had taken, partially submerged, and entangled in a tree.
In his report to Commander J. M. Ellicott, inspector of the 13th Lighthouse District, Nils P. Adamson wrote, “It is now my opinion that the boat sailed partly over and was capsized by this tree, the tree washed in ashore ahead of the boat thus saving the boat from being smashed.” It was thought that the keepers had run into the tree upon their return to the lighthouse in the dark unawares. Though Nils continued to search in coming days, the bodies of the two men were never found.
From that point onward, Nils experience traumatic nightmares. He would awaken in the middle of the night only to find himself standing at the window, shouting out the names of his drowned assistants. During this time, his bond with Miss Fannie undoubtedly deepened as she was the only source of real solace in his life.
Eight months later, Nils Adamson again wrote to Commander Ellicott saying, “I feel that I shall not be able to remain here another winter, due, more than anything else to the drowning of my assistants (Messrs. Currie and Silander), which unhappy incident will always prey upon my mind while attached to this station.” He was transferred a few months later to Coos Bay in 1911 where he served for the next 24 years keeping the range lights at the harbor entrance.
Unfortunately, the sleepwalking nightmares would continue throughout the rest of his life, even when he left Eldred Rock, got married and had two children. So, it must have been doubly tragic to lose Miss Fannie due to yet another fated accident five years later. Nils had given one of her puppies to a family at Bay Park and Miss Fannie was so excited over greeting her offspring again that she didn’t see the oncoming train.
While it might be highly unusual to find a full obituary in a newspaper devoted to a family pet during that era, it is obvious that Miss Fannie Juneau was more than just a dog. She truly was a member of the Adamson family. Her collar was lovingly kept by Nils in a drawer in his writing desk where he could see it daily. It was later discovered by Nils P. Adamson’s grandson, Stephen Dow Beckham, who wrote, “Although Grandfather Adamson had other dogs, mostly Boston or Border Terriers, none took the place of Miss Fannie. She was in a class of her own.”
Photos courtesy of the “Nils P. Adamson Collection, Stephen Dow Beckham”
This story appeared in the
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